Monday, May 16, 2022

No comedies for CBS

Not a good year for Linda Lavin.  

CBS on Friday picked up none of their comedy projects and axed three others (B POSITIVE, UNITED STATES OF ALL, and that horrible bowling thing).  Significant is that two of the comedies were from Chuck Lorre.  I watched an episode of one of the Chuck Lorre canceled shows (I won’t say which one since I have friends on both) but it was not good.  I think even the laugh machine had trouble getting it up for some of the jokes. 

But it’s not like all sitcoms fail.  YOUNG SHELDON and GHOSTS are doing fine at CBS.  ABBOTT ELEMENTARY is an audience and critics’ darling.  THE CONNORS is hanging in there. Even CALL ME KAT on Fox is getting okay numbers.   ABC renewed three sitcoms in addition to ABBOTT ELEMENTARY. 

But the genre that for decades was a cash cow thanks to first-run syndication now no longer has that promised land to shoot for.  New platforms and new economic models have all but erased that mega payday for any show producing 100 episodes are more.  

And yet, if one should hit — FRIENDS has made way more money for Warner Brothers than the entire Batman franchise.  And it continues to.  Hit comedies still can demand decent back ends.  Netflix losing THE OFFICE was a big deal for them.  It’s rarer now, but a big hit sitcom can still be a monster asset.  

What I don’t know is this:  Were the CBS comedy pilots and presentation just not that good?  Would CBS have picked one or two up if they were?  Or are they just sour on comedy?   Networks made fewer pilots and presentations (i.e. pilots on the cheap) this year than ever before.  You stand a much better chance of finding the next FRIENDS if you make 20 pilots instead of 4.”  

NBC picked up two, but talk about conservative — a reboot of NIGHT COURT and the 15th sitcom attempt by George Lopez.  If you’re looking to mount the next breakout comedy, don’t reboot a 40 year old show or retread some journeyman sitcom star.

Fortunately for writers, there are other outlets besides the (former) Big Four.  Again, all it will take to reverse the trend is ONE.  One truly funny sitcom that strikes a chord.

Television programming is a pendulum; always has been.  So comedies will come back.  They were declared dead in the early ‘80s and then CHEERS and COSBY came along.   Find the next “FRIENDS’ and suddenly comedy is back.

So that’s your assignment for the week — create the next mega hit like FRIENDS.  Papers due on Friday.   The state of network comedy depends on it.  But no pressure.  

56 comments :

Jeff said...

Ken - I think you meant Young Sheldon. And your comment about George Lopez really has me giggling.

Lemuel said...

If you want a good barometer on TV shows from a viewer's point see the Onion AV Club. They dropped covering network biggies like MOM or THE GOLDBERGS and went to reviewing streaming shows and CW superhero shows. A new show "drops" and the staff swarms on it, producing long analyses on an actor's new tattoo.

James Van Hise said...

I stopped watching The Connors because it stopped being funny. Each episode is about how miserable the characters are in their failed lives and failed relationships. Rosanne used to have a special Halloween episode every season (they pioneered this which now most every comedy does more than 20 years later). The 2021 Halloween episode was set in a house decorated for Halloween where everyone was miserable for the entire half hour.

Wm. Adams said...

I gave most of these canceled shows a chance. Their common problem was that they were not funny. I mean, I recognized the combinations of words and situations that they intended to be funny. But they weren't. Jokes that were either incredibly obvious, or barely worthy of a "hmm" much less a giggle or a laugh.

Maybe it's a Friday Question, do the people involved in these shows think they are making great comedies, but no one has the heart to tell them, or are they aware that it stinks, and keep going for the paycheck?

Charles H. Bryan said...

Can I be the first to tease you about "YOUNG SPENCER"? The teasing will be gentle, though, because I can't recall the names of half of the shows on television, either.

None of the cancellations really surprise me. I've seen the CBS comedies that were cancelled, and I can't say that my reaction is "How could they?" to any of them.

But I think ABC is keeping most of theirs? ABBOTT, and GOLDBERGS, CONNORS, HOME ECONOMICS (which I like), and WONDER YEARS.

Anonymous said...

I think part of it is that they set out to create something funny, but they receive an avalanche of notes from the network, thus turning a potentially really funny show into a bland, unfunny blob

The Not So Wonder Years said...

A Friday question that might make for a whole post.

Apparently it's been an open secret for years that Fred Savage is an asshole. And now he's been dropped from the reboot of The Wonder Years as producer and director after complaints of misconduct. Crew who worked on his sets say he likes to overshoot and do too many takes and he has a habit of blowing his top.

Overshooting on sitcoms? Who the fuck does he think he is, Stanley Kubrick? This is the guy who made Daddy Day Camp, which is supposed to be one of the worst movies of all time.

Ken, have you ever crossed paths with Savage? Were you aware of his reputation for being a prick? What do you think of directors who shout at their crews? You've talked about how you treat everyone on your sets with respect and dignity. Do you think directors who lose their temper are insecure or are just plain dicks?

tavm said...

After Fox cancelled "The Cool Kids" after one season, maybe I shouldn't have been surprised that "B Positive"s direction to switching to the nursing home wouldn't have gone well with the remaining viewers that were watching. So either "The Golden Girls" success was a fluke or we've gone a long way since the '90s in accepting a show full of elder veterans getting mainstream acceptance in this day and age...

Michael said...

Friday question: A common thread I have read on articles on which shows are being renewed or cancelled is that licensing costs seem to be as much or more of a deciding factor than ratings. Even some of the highest rated FOX shows' renewals are being delayed pending negotiations between network and studios. In this era of shrinking audiences, has this taken on increased importance or was this just not discussed as openly in renewal/cancellation articles in the past?

Mike Chimeri said...

You mentioned Call Me Kat, which made me wonder if it was renewed. It was. I just read a recap of the season (not series) finale. Apparently, Ted Wass, Blossom's dad on Mayim Bialik's first sitcom, played Kat's late dad in a dream sequence. I know I said last month that I was done with the show, but I think I'll give it another try in season 3. Note to the writers: put Kat and Max (Cheyenne Jackson) together and keep them together, just like Sheldon and Amy on The Big Bang Theory.

Anonymous said...

I think network sitcoms are headed down the road that radio sitcoms took.

Mike McCann said...

Some series could reboot successfully. Imagine Mr. Ed 2020 (no, he's not playing Hugh Downs), done in CGI so no animals are harmed. A cynical "George Burns"-type heckling everyday life always resonates.

Connect the show to the '60s classic by making the palomino's human friend the grandchild of Wilbur Post.

Ken, wouldn't you enjoy writing for a character like that?

Hey, if GHOSTS can succeed (and it did despite an awkward opening episode that lost me), a modern day Mr. Ed should be in someone's pipeline.

VincentP said...

Ken, I'm disappointed you didn't mention that all three of the canceled CBS sitcoms were multi-cams. Is this particular art form, with a 70-year heritage dating back to "I Love Lucy" (and yes, it was an outgrowth of "The Jack Benny Program" and other radio series) doomed? Most single-cam sitcoms do nothing for me. I'm simply glad I attended filmings of "Frasier," "Mom" and "Hot In Cleveland" to witness multi-cam magic.

And please stop citing the smug, overrated "Friends" as your only example. Better-written series such as "Seinfeld" and "Frasier" made boatloads of money, too.

Katana said...

The Not So Wonder Years,

I can't wait for Ken to answer a Friday question with "asshole", "fuck", "prick", "dick" and "Savage" in it. Or like you said, maybe a whole post

Anonymous said...

It’s part of the reason that the television industry much like the movies is very trendy. What’s the hard thing? Westerns? Police procedurals? Maybe it just takes one big hit like a friends to get them back onto comedies. Plus, as you another’s have pointed out reality shows are so much cheaper to produce. No writers ;(

Don Kemp said...

I was somewhat surprised Mr. Mayor got the axe, only because the people involved were capable of so much better and could have made the necessary changes. The fact it didn't remotely resemble the actual L.A. Mayor's office, much less say, Mayberry's, had a little to do with that.

Really happy that Ghosts got renewed, though. You have to watch that show at least two times an episode to get all the throwaway lines.

Kevin FitzMaurice said...

Linda Lavin was superb in her couple of appearances on "Mom" several years ago.

Mike Chimeri said...

Vincent, I believe multi-cam is doomed, an end accelerated by audience-less tapings in the COVID era. Whose Line is it Anyway? is equally doomed as the staff is running out of unaired material to make new episodes. I'm glad to hear you attended tapings of three of my favorite multi-cam sitcoms (two with Jane Leeves, one with her real accent). Hot in Cleveland convinced TV Land to make more multi-cams, many of which I enjoyed, like The Exes and The Soul Man. Then, 2015 came along and TV Land rebranded itself. Younger killed the multi-cams one by one, filling their voids with more single-camera series. No offense to Sutton Foster, Debi Mazar, Hilary Duff, and creator Darren Star, but the effect I listed in the previous sentence is why I hate their series.

Gary said...

There's your next guest on the Podcast, Fred "Flintstone" Savage.

maxdebryn said...

I really enjoy YOUNG SHELDON. It seems that they are headed into the so-called "dramedy" mode with the show. There are still (for me) some good laughs on each (short) episode, but with pregnancy, infidelity, etc. now being the focus of the show, the laughs are not quite as important as the dramatic aspects. And that's fine by me.

The Not So Wonder Years said...

Katana

I love the rich palette of the English language.

Mitch said...

My dog ate my first draft, can I get an extension?

.

Jesse Jackson said...

I really tried to like How we Roll because of I am a fan of Katie Lowes, but it wasn't very funny. I did like United States of Al but not sure of the story lines this season.

Mike Bloodworth said...

The CBS sitcoms had more problems than just being not funny. The characters on "B Positive" weren't very likeable. I couldn't root for them in any way. I really didn't care if what's his name got a kidney or not. With some shows likeable characters can compensate for a lackluster writing. Same thing for "The United States of Al." I liked Adhir Kalyan on "Rules of Engagement," but here he just seemed to be another stereotype in a tired, fish-out-of-water premise. Plus the supporting cast wasn't particularly likeable either. Also from what I understand because of the pandemic they couldn't have a live audience for either of these shows. Maybe they would have seemed funnier if you could hear real laughter. That is IF they had something to laugh at.
To digress for a moment. I thought America's withdrawal from Afghanistan might have given "U.S.o A." The potential for some interesting plot lines; maybe give the show an edge. But now we'll never know.

I had asked this before as an F.Q., but it's relevant here. Could Chuck Lorre have enough clout with CBS that he could muscle these shows on the air knowing full well that they weren't that good in the first place?

"That horrible bowling thing" is a perfect way to describe that show. (Sorry. I can't remember the name)

I have watched several episodes of "Abbott Elementary" and find it highly overrated.

Finally, there seems to be some dispute. Is it "Young Sheldon," "Young Sheldon "or "Young Sheldon?" Let me offer another option, "Young Sheldon. "

M.B.

Craig Russell said...

To be fair, the "B Positive" show got screwed with. The original premise--boy needs transplant, boy gets new kidney from freewheeling love interest, and they live happily ever after when they realize said love" was a good conflict ridden idea. But when she got rich, bought the old folks home and he became a bit character, I knew it was done.

Theres just no place for the show to go. A few years back, Jenna Elfman played a newspaper editor who got pregnant with a stringers baby., Show ended with her having the baby. No place for the romance, or the show to ho.. Too bad. I thought the girl on B Positive was pretty good. When's the MASH rerun start on ME-TV?

Mike Bloodworth said...

P.S. "How We Roll" is the name of the bowling show.

M.B.

Russ DiBello said...

Spending as much time as I have on sets for TV and film, I'm intrigued by the remark from Not The Wonder Years about how Mr. Savage would allegedly "overshoot and do too many takes".

How could you TELL?

Last week I was on a show where my scene had taken the entire afternoon to shoot. It was a simple scene, a sit-down in a restaurant, involving the usual angles.

It lasted on screen for 1:43.

There was another scene in the program that aired just before it, where I also happened to be present. A totally daylong project. This one I didn't time, but it was about the same deal. And I've seen a million more examples just like that.

What you call "overshooting" is the norm these days, at least in New York. I've always figured it had something to do with justifying the work load/salary balance for crew and cast.

(True confessions: I've also been on a set with Fred Savage. Not that any greater meaning should be derived from this, but he seemed okay.)

Steve Leblang said...

Www.leblanguage.com. What he said. And then some.

The Not So Wonder Years said...

Russ, I was only quoting what insiders had told People magazine. It's not my opinion, it's their account.

https://people.com/tv/fred-savage-was-quick-to-anger-while-directing-on-tv-show-sets-source/

Goggles Paisano said...

You omitted YOUNG SHELDON, Mike Bloodworth.

VincentP said...

At least "Bob (Hearts) Abishola" is coming back for season 4. Right?

Andy Cohen said...

Who are the comedy execs at the networks? They used to be the future heads of the network. Now they're just list makers. You go in w a pitch and there's ten newbies taking notes. You mention THE HONEYMOONERS or BILKO etc and they have no clue.

A comedy exec used to live across the street from me. At 7 AM while I was taking out the trash, he'd be going to the office. He said he had a daily 730 am creative staff meeting. Nothing is funny at 730 am. He admitted it was just to show the corporate bosses they were working hard.

If I were in charge, at 730 there'd be a bagel buffet and an hour of watching comedies. Not Friends but the Marx Bros, Laurel and Hardy..... Not to make similar shows but to get everyone laughing!!!

It's hard to laugh when you're fearing that you'll lose your job all day.

chuckcd said...

I think that all the scripted shows will end up on streaming services. Network TV will only be game shows, reality shows and competition type shows. The exodus has begun...

sanford said...

True Al was a fish out of water. But I felt he was acclmating to life here. He had a car, worked for the father. He went to school so he wasn't stupid. He probably learned a lot being around Americans. I didn't necessairly like Reilly havng sex with the ex, especially after she revealed she excepted her boy friends marriage proposal. Where are you supposed to with that? As for B postive, even if Gina hadn't bought the senior citizens home where was that show supposed to go after the transplant was successful. I didn't think the characters were totally unlikeable. I think one would have their moments being old and stuck in a senior citizens home no matter how nice it was.

bryon said...

I will miss "United States of Al." If it had been promoted as strongly as "Ghosts," it might still be on.

Ken, I'm looking forward to your reaction to this Vice article about showrunners: https://www.vice.com/en/article/epxeze/television-is-in-a-showrunning-crisis

Madame Smock said...

Wait, isn't Young Spencer the prequel to Spencer: For Hire.

John Fox said...

Networks have a long history of not knowing a comedy gem if it bit them in the leg - which did happen in 1969-70 in the form of one of James Thurber's cartoon dogs. "My World and Welcome To It" was cancelled after its first season. It aired Monday nights on NBC opposite "Gunsmoke" and who-knows-what on ABC - the perennial also-ran in of the 1960s. It was the lead-in to the third season of the "Laugh-In" juggernaut and got okay ratings but lost to Gunsmoke and was the polar opposite of Laugh-In in terms of comedy. Gentle, witty Thurber-esque humor vs. Laugh-In's pie in the face, or more specifically, dumping a bucket of water on Judy Carnes. No sooner did NBC cancel My World and Welcome To It than it won the Emmy as that year's best comedy series, joining the likes of I Love Lucy, The Phil Silvers Show, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Get Smart, All In the Family, Cheers, Taxi, and Frasier - all of whom won multiple years. My World never got that chance. Of all the Emmy-winning comedy series in the history of the award, My World was the only one that was cancelled after its first season. Ironically, today's object of derision, CBS (not NBC) thought enough of My World to rerun it in 1972, but without any new episodes. Probably the key people had all moved on. In six seasons, Laugh-In never did win best comedy series.

DyHrdMET said...

It's funny (no pun intended) which comedies some people enjoy and which ones they don't. I liked a couple of the shows that got axed while don't like one of the new ones that were kept. But I don't think I count in the ratings in any meaningful way because I'm at least a month behind on my DVR (I tried to stay within 7 days when I was a Nielsen household).

It's time for you to start your own streaming network and save the genre of multicam comedies. I'd gladly pay $12 per year for that.

Call Me Mike said...

Someone mentioned "The Cool Kids." I heard a podcast not long ago where its showrunner said they were getting notes picking apart almost every line they wrote. They actually questioned whether a character should say "good morning" or not.

So yeah, if this sort of thing is common, it's no wonder comedy on network TV is in such a diminished state. It's hard to make with the funny when you've got a lot of suits standing on your back.

JS said...

I am trying to figure out the next big comedy as requested. I deliver for "Meals on Wheels" in my free time. Lord, that is a minefield of comedy. Will keep working on it.

Anonymous said...

I just finished watching THE BUCKET LIST with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. It got me to wondering: do you have a bucket list? Or actually two lists? One, long standing items still to do, like a big Broadway hit, and second, things from the list that you no longer care about or are now out of reach, e.g. sex with Natalie Wood?

SueK2001 said...

I was amazed at myself for being deliriously happy with Ghosts and Wonder Years being renewed. I haven't watched network comedies in years so to be rooting for them to come back surprised me.
I knew Ghosts would return and was surprised there weren't an Ghosts knock offs from the other networks. I love Wonder Years so the waiting for it's renewal was a bit tense. Part of it was that I am so sick of trying to like shows that networks won't give the chance. Comedies are too easy to pull the network plug so why bother?

Svetlana said...

I miss when ABC had those family shows a few years ago like Fresh Off the Boat, Blackish, The Real O'Neals and Speechless.

Wendy M. Grossman said...

@tavm: The difference with the GOLDEN GIRLS is that they were *not* living in a retirement home. They were sharing a house and living independently. It's much more like FRIENDS, both set at times of a person's life when their friends are their family. Just-out-of-college, like FRIENDS, because you're still building your adult life and haven't permanently settled into a relationship, kids, line of work; over-60, like GOLDEN GIRLS, because your family has broken up - your kids have grown up, your spouse is deceased or divorced.

I don't think either the writing or the performers on COOL KIDS and B POSITIVE could get over the fact that living in a retirement community - still less, living there because your spouse has cancer or you have Alzheimer's - is not a prospect most people look forward to.

wg

ScarletNumber said...

@Wendy M. Grossman

Buttressing your point to tavm, when The Golden Girls premiered, the actresses themselves weren't even senior citizens, even though to a young viewer they seemed older. Dorothy and Rose were 63 and Blanche was only 51! I concede they never stated the characters' ages, but Dorothy and Rose both worked during the course of the show. Estelle Getty was younger in real life, but played Dorothy's mother, so her character was in her 80s. The point is, there is a big difference between a show featuring older adults and one that features a literal nursing home.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

So you're the one who caught me in my jammies at the doorstep railing about how you keep forgetting my wholemeal roll? I think the phrase "commie plot" may have been uttered, sorry about that. But the fruit cup was good.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

Wish fulfillment can be a driver in many popular shows. The Golden Girls through bonding and being an alternative family escaped more dire alternatives but the threat of confinement was always there, and some of the episodes bravely tackled those fears.

Retired at 35 didn't get great reviews but with George Segal and Jessica Walter it was a pretty good watch. A guy in his 30s at loose ends moves into his parents' retirement home. Only lasted two seasons but it was a cute show.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

Yes she was! The Jewish dinner party is one of my favorite episodes.

Spike de Beauvoir said...

Friday question:

Ken, are you a fan of Randy Rainbow? His videos were catharctic during tfg era and he's been getting more mainstream media attention lately. His new book quickly rose to #3 on the NYT bestseller list and he recently was interviewed on Jimmy Kimmel.

He was invited to honor Carol Burnett who's been a longtime fan of his. She gave a touching tribute to his genius and work:

https://mobile.twitter.com/randyrainbow

ScarletNumber said...

@John Fox

If you had turned on ABC at 7:30 on Monday Night, you would have watched Robert Wagner playing Alexander Mundy in It Takes a Thief. Keep in mind that since NBC had Laugh In and CBS had Gunsmoke, Here's Lucy, Mayberry RFD, and Doris Day on Monday Nights, ABC decided to take a chance the following year by launching a new prime-time program, Monday Night Football.

@Craig Russell

Due to Thomas Middleditch being a db, they decided to change the focus of B Positive.

@Mike Bloodworth

I made a post the other day about Thomas Middleditch being unlikable.

Mike McCann said...

@SueK2001, you're so right about expecting -- and not finding -- any Ghost knockoffs. Then again, it's not the mid 1960s, when Shindig "inspired" Hullabaloo, The Man from UNCLE helped usher in Secret Agent and My Favorite Martian was followed by Bewitched and I Dream of Jeannie.
If course, in that long-gone and idyllic three-network world, each of the big three offered 6- 10 sitcoms a week. Now CBS, which for decades dominated the genre, is down to four -- with nothing new this fall.
Whimsically, if you were going to knock off Ghosts, how would you do it? I'd just license the Topper novels -- but where will you find present-day talent to stand in for Cary Grant (or Robert Sterling), Constance Bennett (or Ann Jeffreys) and Roland Young (Leo G. Carroll)?

Paul Drake said...

Secret Agent was known as Danger Man in the UK, where it debuted in 1960. The Man from Uncle turned up in 1964.

Steve Leblang said...

It’s always been about money but given the economics it’s been risen to a new high level.

Anonymous said...

Let’s just face reality and the truth. Comedy is suffering because of all this politically correct BS. The only shows that can be funny are animated, at least they get away w more like South Park.

This whole era of “birthing people” and “non binary”, along w google, YouTube and the media is effecting comedy.

Sorry fir posting anon but I don’t need any hate mail bc I offended someone by saying the truth. The pendulum will swing back If we can get past this PC BS about offending everyone and refusing to admit only females can give birth, and stop calling a single person a plural it’s out of control!

D. McEwan said...

I had no idea what "The Bowling Show" was, but then I saw a promo for it. Wow: two horribly bad ideas: a sit-com about bowling and a sitcom starring the incredibly boring Pete Holmes, combined into one super-bomb. Never do a sitcom about bowling, and never do a sitcom starring Pete Holmes, and for God's sake, never do both at once! (And mind you, I owe my life to bowling. My parents first met on a bowling team.)

MikeN said...

> FRIENDS has made way more money for Warner Brothers than the entire Batman franchise.

I highly doubt this, unless you are excluding licensing money.